Ford wins another award – but you’ll never guess why!

April 1st, 2018

Broken down ford


The Ford Motor Company has been on a bit of a tear as of late, topping truck & SUV sales charts, and winning a plethora of automotive industry awards. This week they added another trophy to their collection, for their leadership on climate change – but not for the reasons you may first suspect.

The new-for-2018 honor was presented at the annual Automotive Critics’ Association of America (ACAA) awards gala on Tuesday, with Ford being recognized for leading “climate-related reliability”. What is climate-related reliability?

“This is something we’ve never measured before”, said ACAA chairman Bob Lutz. “We already measure fuel economy and tailpipe emissions, but we’ve never actually considered the greenhouse gas reductions that take place when a vehicle has broken down.” It makes sense, we suppose: If a vehicle isn’t driving, it’s not polluting.

Lutz continued, “People might view the fact Fords break down as much as they do to be a negative thing, but they’re overlooking the benefits to our atmosphere. Plus, frequent breakdowns – as many Ford owners have come to expect – encourage new, climate-friendly habits like walking or taking public transit; even after the motorist has switched to a more reliable car brand.”

Ford Motor Company president Jim-Bob Duggar was on hand to accept the somewhat dubious award, but shrugged off any notions of negativity, saying, “The reliability issues aren’t exactly new, and any publicity is good publicity.”



Happy April 1st from Tools in Motion!

Here are some real-world diagnostics examples.

March 19th, 2018

By Chris Dekker

fixd code reader

If you spend any time on the Internet at all, you’ve surely seen ads like these by now. Besides the clickbait mechanic-bashing, what else is wrong with this advertisement? Let’s dig in.

One of the primary aims of our blog and social media presence is to give our customers a behind-the-scenes look at what we do every day, and to educate people as well. A better-informed customer will be able to take better care of their vehicle, after all. If we had to pick the one aspect of our job that is the least understood by customers, it would be the process of diagnosing a car problem. That’s why we re-visit this topic as much as we do.

There’s still a large group of people out there who honestly believe that we just hook up a computer that tells us what’s wrong with their vehicle – like the device in the photo above claims to do. This device is a generic OBD2 code reader that’s meant to work with your phone. You can actually purchase something similar on Amazon for around $10, or a standalone tool at many local stores for between $20 and $250.


What is a code reader? (The simple explanation.)

In 1996, every vehicle on the road adopted a self-diagnostic system called On-Board Diagnostics 2 (or OBD2 for short). It was around this time period that on-board computers – or “modules” – were becoming much more common, and more plentiful. 1980s vehicles usually just had one module that controlled the engine and transmission, while 90s cars had 5-10 modules; and today’s vehicles have 20-30. Most of these modules contain “self-diagnostic” software that is designed to detect bugs in the vehicle. When a fault is detected, a warning light is usually illuminated, and a “trouble code” is stored. For example, if an Engine Control Module detects a misfire on cylinder #2 of your engine, it would set a trouble code P0302 – “Cylinder #2 misfire”. OBD2 codes are always 5 digits in length, with the first letter dictating which system is affected: “P” for powertrain, “C” for chassis, “B” for body, and so on.

An OBD2 code reader is a very basic version of the full-feature scan tools that professionals use, and allows you to retrieve most (but not all) of the “P” trouble codes stored in just your engine control module.


So, how does a code reader tell you what’s wrong with your car?

It doesn’t. A trouble code is just a starting point in the diagnosis: a direction, if you will. That P0302 trouble code mentioned above doesn’t tell you if your misfire is being caused by a bad spark plug; ignition coil; fuel injector; vacuum leak; sticking valve; compression problem; or a dozen other possible causes. That’s where the rest of the diagnosis comes in. We’ve discussed the actual diagnostic process lots in these previous articles, so we’ll skip over that for now:

The “magic computer”? We still don’t have one.

Explaining the diagnostic process.


Real-world diagnostic examples:

To give you some examples of how little help a code reader usually is in properly diagnosing a problem, we want to show you three examples of problem vehicles that came through our shop recently. We’ll list the symptoms, with any trouble codes that were stored. Look at this information first, and make a mental note of which components you’d lean towards replacing based on that information alone – then read on to learn what the results of a full, proper diagnosis were. We’re not cherry-picking these examples, either; these were literally the last three diagnostic jobs to come through our shop.


1)  2010 Mercedes GLK 350 with a rough-running engine.

This Mercedes came to us with a very rough-idling engine, and a “check engine” light on. Diagnostic accuracy is always important on European vehicles, because their parts aren’t cheap and one wrong guess would cost a lot more than a proper diagnosis. Our initial scan revealed two trouble codes in the Engine Control Module (ECM):

  • P0300 – Random cylinder misfire detected.
  • P2005 – Intake manifold runner tuning valve position error.

It’s important to note that this is where diagnosis with the code reader stops. Do you feel comfortable throwing any parts at this car yet? We didn’t either, so let’s continue…

To an experienced technician, this engine had what felt like a single-cylinder misfire. But which cylinder was misfiring? As we often see, the ECM didn’t know; and stored the rather unhelpful “random cylinder misfire” trouble code instead. Performing a cylinder contribution test with our Mercedes scan tool allowed us to determine that cylinder #2 was our culprit. We did a quick check of mechanical compression in that cylinder – which measured good – then proceeded to check for fuel and spark supply to cylinder #2. We found that the cylinder #2 ignition coil was producing a weak spark, and had to be replaced.

airdrie mercedes repair

The new coil solved our rough idle, but diagnosis of the variable length intake manifold (a system designed to provide a good combination of low-end torque and high-end power) took a little more work. When none of the obvious causes for the P2005 code were present, we dug deeper. Using a special camera called a borescope, we went inside the intake manifold and found some physical damage that meant the manifold will need to be replaced.

Total cost for this accurate diagnosis: $150.


2) 2008 Hummer H3 with Check Engine light, ABS light, and Traction/Stability control lights on; four wheel drive will not engage; rear locking differential will not engage.

Because of all the different issues on this truck, starting diagnosis involved checking for trouble codes in all of the on-board computers; not just the engine computer that a generic code reader can access.

  • The Sensing and Diagnostic Module (which controls ABS, traction and stability control) and the Final Drive Control Module (which controls the four wheel drive) had both stored trouble code C0045 – “Left rear wheel speed sensor signal fault”.
  • The only code stored in the engine computer was P0300 – “Random cylinder misfire detected”, like our Mercedes above.

Since the ABS, stability control, four wheel drive, etc are all dependent on knowing the wheel speeds, our C0045 trouble code explained all of the customer’s issues except the Check Engine light.

Does our Hummer need a new wheel speed sensor? In this case, that would have been a bad guess. The sensor tested fine, (and here’s where it’s important to point out that every part on a vehicle can be tested before it’s replaced) so we investigated further. The issue turned out to be a chafing wiring harness underneath the vehicle, where several wires had rubbed through on the frame. We repaired the wiring and moved on to the Check Engine light.


airdrie car diagnostics


The engine in this Hummer ran fine until we got it hot, when it started misfiring. Whipping out our GM Tech 2 scan tool for a power balance test, we determined the offending cylinders were #4 and #5. As we’ve already discussed, a misfire can be caused by dozens of different problems, so we ran a battery of tests, using many different tools and pieces of test equipment. Having ruled out a lot of the more common causes, we installed an in-cylinder pressure transducer (super-sensitive electric pressure sensor) into cylinder #5 and wired the transducer to our oscilloscope. Using this tool, we were able to detect the cylinder #5 intake valves were sticking. A little more camera time with the borescope, and we determined this was due to carbon build-up inside the cylinder heads, which would need to be cleaned.


airdrie check engine light

Total cost for this diagnosis (including the wiring repair): $300.


3) 2012 Toyota Tundra with Check Engine light on.

This diagnosis was pretty straightforward. Scanning the Engine Control Module only resulted in one stored trouble code:

  • P0441 – “Evaporative emission system incorrect purge flow.”

This trouble code indicates that when the ECM applies vacuum to the fuel tank by commanding open the purge valve, it is not seeing the expected drop in fuel tank pressure, as reported by the fuel tank pressure sensor. Let’s stop for a minute again. This is as far as the code reader takes us. Do you feel comfortable replacing a part yet? A faulty purge valve would be a good guess, but that’s a $200 part. What’s a proper diagnosis going to cost?

Possible causes for this trouble code include a faulty purge valve; a failing fuel tank pressure sensor; a leak in the system somewhere; even a loose gas cap! After checking the gas cap – you ALWAYS check that first! :) – we moved on to testing the purge valve using a Toyota scan tool that can command the valve open/closed, and a handheld vacuum pump. The valve functioned fine and all of its plumbing looked good, so we moved on to looking for leaks in the system. The quickest way to do this was to use a smoke machine, a tester than pressurizes the system and fills it with a thick smoke. Once you find the smoke escaping somewhere, you’ve found your leak.

airdrie auto repair


We found the smoke escaping from the canister vent valve underneath the vehicle, which we had used the scan tool to command closed for the test. Removing and bench testing the solenoid revealed that while it was receiving a good power and ground input from the ECM, the solenoid itself was not closing properly – and was the source of our trouble code.

Total cost for this diagnosis: $150.


Hopefully these examples help illustrate just how valuable a good diagnosis is, and how much work (and technician skill) goes into one. Do you have a vehicle problem that needs trouble-shooting? Let us know!

Why shopping around for the cheapest labour rate doesn’t make sense.

January 11th, 2018

affordable mechanic airdrie

By Chris Dekker


“Hello, what is your labour rate?” We must get this phone call two or three times every day. We understand what the person on the phone is attempting to do: they’re trying to gauge how expensive we are (or aren’t). What these people don’t realize, though, is that if they’re looking for the best overall value, then they’re going about this all wrong.

Auto service businesses in our area all charge around the same labour rate, usually within $20/hour of each other. Yet prices for a given repair can vary wildly from shop to shop; sometimes a $350 repair at one business will cost $500 at another. Why is this? It’s because there are other factors at work – factors that are much harder to measure – that have a much larger affect on the overall price. Let’s explore some of these:


Parts pricing:

Believe it or not, our labour rate alone isn’t enough to pay our bills. Our industry’s hourly labour charges are actually quite low compared to other professional services who have similar operating costs. In order to actually turn a profit, every auto service business purchases parts at a wholesale discount from their suppliers, and then re-sells them for a retail price. However, that wholesale discount varies from shop to shop. While we’ve negotiated a rock-bottom cost on parts with our suppliers, many other businesses pay a higher price in exchange for rewards programs; warranty programs; and kickbacks like free vacations for the owners, etc. Obviously this cost gets passed on to you, the customer. The actual parts mark-up will vary as well; with some shops charging a higher percentage than others.


Extra fees:

We don’t charge any additional fees on top of our labour rate, but this is pretty rare in the industry. Most businesses charge another $5-$10 per hour in “shop supplies” or environmental fees, so you’ll want to make sure you know their true effective labour rate including fees.


Labour times:

To arrive at a labour quote, we multiply our labour rate by the labour time for a given repair. We discuss labour times more here. Most of these labour times come from a labour guide; a sort of industry standard that most business use. However, the guide is just that: more of a general guideline than a rule; and businesses can charge for as many hours as they want. Because the labour times are based on brand new vehicles, we may occasionally charge extra labour when rust, corrosion and other age-related issues make a repair much more time-consuming on an older car, for example. We’ll sometimes also charge a lower labour time on repairs that we know won’t take as long as the guide suggests.

Some auto repair businesses in Calgary charge absurdly low $60-$80/hour labour rates to attract customers, but charge twice as many labour hours for a given repair, so the final price ends up the same. Just remember that even if two businesses have the same labour rate, the labour charge you pay may still be different.


Labour overlap:

What happens when doing one repair makes it easier (and quicker) to do another, separate repair? That’s what we call labour overlap. Here’s an example: on a 2005 Chevy Silverado 1500, the published labour time to replace one front wheel bearing is 1.3 hours, and the labour to replace both front brake rotors is 1.0 hours. So, if we’re replacing both rotors and a wheel bearing, is it fair to charge you to total combined time of 2.3 hours? We don’t think so, since one of the brake rotors must be removed anyway in order to access the wheel bearing. However, many businesses in our industry do not pass this labour savings on to their customers; and this can have a huge effect on the price.


Diagnostic ability:

Here’s another one of those little things that you may not think about. Will you be charged for two hours labour to diagnose a problem that a more qualified technician could find in one hour; or will a misdiagnosis leave you paying for parts that you didn’t need? The pace of change quickens every year in our industry, so this should be an important consideration as we continue to move away from internal combustion engines and into the age of autonomous electric vehicles, with technicians who can’t adapt getting left behind.



This one is huge. As we explain in this blog post, honesty is the number one way that we save people money every day. We often say that a great price for a repair that you don’t actually need – or need yet – is still a bad deal! Whether it’s being honest about what your vehicle needs; how urgently you need a repair; owning up to a misdiagnosis; or being up-front about a mistake, our policy of uncompromising honesty ends up saving our customers a lot of money every year.



One final consideration when determining overall value is the warranty that an auto service business provides on their repairs. Unfortunately, repairs sometimes fail; most commonly due to a parts failure, but occasionally due to a mistake on the part of the technician. A longer or more comprehensive warranty will provide some security that you won’t pay twice for the same repair. A business that provides a better warranty may be more mindful of their quality of work, and likely chooses better quality parts for their repairs.

Another important question to ask is regarding collateral damage. Here’s an example: Let’s say you pay to have an alternator replaced, and the new alternator seizes up, breaking the serpentine belt. Will the installing business only replace the faulty alternator, or will they also replace the broken belt that resulted from the failure?


When the cheapest price isn’t always best:

We always tell customers that if our price is noticeably higher than another business, it’s time to start asking questions because they likely aren’t “comparing apples to apples”. For example, our price to replace a power steering pump will almost always be higher than our competitors, because we’ll only use OEM (from the manufacturer) pumps, while many shops are installing poor quality rebuilt aftermarket units.

You also don’t want to seek out the cheapest business around, because delivering the expertise and service you expect costs money. A shop that’s not charging appropriately likely won’t be able to afford to pay the most skilled and caring technicians, or provide you with a quality warranty and service after the sale.

What does maintaining a vehicle really cost?

December 23rd, 2017

By Chris Dekkercar repair


“This vehicle is costing me too much money.” It’s a phrase that we hear from customers quite often, and sometimes we agree with them! Often, though, we feel that the customer doesn’t have a realistic expectation of what (properly) maintaining a vehicle should cost.

Driving costs money. It’s an expense that never goes away, and most drivers are faced with a choice between making payments on a new vehicle, or paying for repairs on an older one. With today’s longer 60, 72 or 84 month financing terms, many car owners will actually find themselves doing both. Maintaining your older, paid-for vehicle is always cheaper, how much cheaper is it? How do you know if your car is “costing you too much money”?

We feel that the average car owner should fully expect and budget for $2500 per year in maintenance and repair expenses. This increases to around $3000 annually for full-size trucks, and $4000 for 3/4-ton and larger diesel trucks, especially if they are driven a lot. Automotive industry groups like AIA Canada come up with similar numbers. This will vary a bit based on vehicle model, as a more expensive vehicle will usually also cost more to own over time. (Maintaining an Audi Q5 will obviously cost more than maintaining a Kia Sorento.)


Is $2500/year worth it? How much cheaper is maintaining your older vehicle?

Maintaining your older vehicle usually cuts your cost of driving in half vs making payments on a new car, but numbers vary depending on model. Here are a couple examples:

  1. A mid-level Honda Odyssey EX without navigation costs $43,000 after taxes and fees, and would cost around $766 per month at 2.9% interest over 5 years; or about $9200 per year. In this case, spending our recommended $2500 annually on your older minivan would cost you 73% less than purchasing the new van, even before considering that the new van will still require some maintenance as well.
  2. Here’s another example with a less expensive vehicle: a new Chevy Cruze. A mid-range Cruze LS with an automatic transmission costs around $25,000 after taxes and fees, or $420 per month/$5000 annually over five years. Even though Chevrolet kicks in a few free oil changes at the beginning, you’ll probably spend a few hundred bucks per year on maintenance, meaning our $2500 investment in your older car would still cost you 53% less.

This illustrates that while spending $2500-$3000 per year maintaining your older vehicle might sound like a lot of money, it actually represents a very good value when it comes to cost of driving.


What about a really cheap vehicle, like one you paid $2000 for?

We’ll often hear from people that they don’t want to put $1000-$2000 of work into their older car, because they only paid a couple thousand dollars for the vehicle. While there definitely comes a point in every car’s life where it becomes no longer worth fixing – and we’ve actually talked many folks out of fixing their vehicles before – we don’t feel this is a valid reason not to maintain most vehicles properly.

It’s important to remember that while auto manufacturers will refer to your vehicle as an investment, it’s really just an expense. Keeping the car you rely on safe and reliable is an on-going life expense, just like heating your home or feeding your family. That expense doesn’t change much based on what you paid for the vehicle – just like it takes the same amount of food to fill a $5000 brand-new fridge from The Brick every week as it does a $100 used fridge from Kijiji. It takes the same amount of natural gas to heat a 1,500 square foot home whether you paid $50,000 or $400,000 for it. We should view the cost of reliable transportation the same way.


airdrie car mechanic


The key is finding an automotive service facility that can help you manage that expense over time: making sure that you only pay for services that you actually need; helping you prioritize services so they fit your budget; and performing maintenance services on time to prevent larger problems down the road. We take this very seriously, and try to do this for all of our customers.


Making the right decision, not the profitable one.

August 24th, 2017

By Chris Dekker

airdrie mechanic

“Don’t tell them about the loose ball joints; we don’t want to lose the brake job.” These were the words from my manager, at an auto repair shop that I worked for years ago. A customer had brought their vehicle in for a brake repair and agreed on a price. Once we brought the vehicle inside, we noticed the lower ball joints were very worn and loose. Besides being a safety hazard, this was also going to be an expensive repair. My manager made the decision to tell the customer about the ball joint issue after we repaired the brakes, for fear that the more expensive estimate “scare the customer off”, or lead them to not fix the vehicle at all. He didn’t want to lose the revenue from the brake repair.

Is this right? Of course not! But you’d be surprised at how often stuff like this happens in our industry.

Before I get too carried away, let’s change gears for a minute. This week, I met with a fellow to discuss some new shop equipment. He marveled at how quickly our business had grown over the last few years. He asked, “How, after only 4 years, are you so much busier than these businesses that have been in Airdrie for over two decades?”

I wasn’t really sure how to answer that question at first. We haven’t really tried to grow this quickly; we just do our best for our customers every day, and it kind of happened on its own. After I thought for a while, though, I was able to pick out what I feel is the principle driver of our growth: our reputation for honesty. We’ve worked very hard for this reputation, and continue to every day. I told the man, “It really comes down to all the little decisions that we make every day; decisions that aren’t always the most profitable for us, but they’re the right thing to do.”

That’s truly what it comes down to. Running our business the way we do costs a lot of money. It means that our profits on a given volume of sales will be lower than competitors, and lower than what is normal in the automotive repair industry. Every day in this industry, you find yourself in situations where you need to choose a path: The path that earns you the most profit, or the ethical path that usually means less profit – and sometimes a loss of money. You’ll be happy to know that we always choose the latter; and put our customers (and our reputation) ahead of any short-term financial gain.


Examples of these situations include:

1.) The “Sell just enough work that we can still get the job” routine:

The aforementioned scenario, where a customer will bring their vehicle in for a repair, and you notice other important issues that (if we were the customer), we’d want to know about first. If the issues are serious, we always stop work immediately and get in touch with the customer before proceeding. Quite often, even if the customer doesn’t want a full inspection, we’ll do a complete check-over on a customer’s vehicle before starting a big job – usually at no charge to them. This helps prevent us from doing a repair on a vehicle that’s not worth fixing, and we’ve actually talked a few folks out of fixing their car because of these inspections.

2) The botched diagnosis:

Even though we’re very good at what we do, we’re also human beings; and we make mistakes. Let’s pretend you bring your car in to diagnose a misfire, and we tell you it needs a fuel pump. You agree to the repair, and we replace the pump. However, we start the vehicle up afterwards and it’s still misfiring! Clearly we got it wrong, and something else is the issue. Let’s say that further testing reveals your problem is actually the spark plugs. This is a much cheaper repair than a new fuel pump. Here are two ways that some automotive businesses often handle this situation: 1) Discovering their mistake, the shop replaces the spark plugs and doesn’t tell the customer. The customer, none the wiser, picks up their smooth running car and believes the fuel pump fixed the issue – even though the correct repair would have been half the cost. 2) The shop calls the customer and tells them that their vehicle is “Better than it was”, or “Has a different problem now” and sells them the spark plug repair as well. They might even go so far as to make up a silly story about how the faulty fuel pump must have “taken out” the spark plugs. The customer pays for both repairs – the ones they did need, and the one they didn’t.

Now here’s how we handle this situation: We usually call up the customer right away, and inform them that we’ve made a mistake. We explain why we thought the fuel pump was the culprit, but that it didn’t fix the problem. We also tell the customer that they aren’t going to pay for that new fuel pump – but they can keep the new part. (Parts like these are usually non-returnable, and we’d lose even more money paying a technician to change the part again, anyway.) We then explain that the actual repair (the new spark plugs) was much cheaper and the customer usually picks up their vehicle feeling pretty happy.

3) The botched diagnosis, part 2:

Take example #2 above, but pretend that instead of needing new spark plugs, we discover the vehicle needs new fuel injectors. Let’s pretend that new fuel injectors cost even more money than a new fuel pump. Maybe the fuel pump replacement was $800, but the injectors would cost $1000; meaning the correct repair actually costs $200 more than we’d originally quoted. Now what? Well, as you may already know, all of our diagnostics are guaranteed. This means that it we told you it’s going to cost $800 to repair your misfire, that’s what it’s going to cost – and this customer just got a free fuel pump, plus a $1000 set of injectors for $800. It’s just the right thing to do.

(Obviously, there are cases where a vehicle does indeed have multiple issues; or one issue must be repaired first before you can tackle another one. This is different. But you can always count on us to own up to our mistakes if we make one, and be honest with you in these situations.)


We always believed that running our business this way would pay off in the long run, and now we’re seeing the payoff that we knew would come. Sure, we aren’t making the money that we could be making, but we’re OK with that. We’re very proud of our outstanding reputation in the community, because we’ve worked very hard – and made a lot of sacrifices – for it.

I’ve mentioned the “making the right decisions” thing before, so hopefully this helps give you a behind-the-scenes look at our management style, and how Tim & I have decided to run our company. We sincerely appreciate you and every one of our customers who support us. We know you have a lot of choices out there, and we don’t take it for granted that you choose us for your automotive needs. We also know that we’re not perfect. There are situations where we’re still learning; where we make mistakes; or where there is a breakdown in communication. We ask that you always bring these situations to our attention, because we really do care about our customers and we might be a lot more eager to “make a bad situation right” than you might expect!

Thank you from everyone at Tools in Motion for letting us help keep you on the road!

The magic computer? We still don’t have one.

July 20th, 2017

“Do you have one of those computers that tells you what’s wrong with the car?” This has got to be one of every mechanic’s least favourite questions to get from a customer. As we’ve explained before, while scan tools can provide a starting point for a proper diagnosis, it’s very early in the process that the human brain must take over. As we often tell people, there is a big difference between pulling out a trouble code and actually diagnosing a problem.

Here’s a great example from this week. This little Honda CR-V came to us with a “check engine” light on, and the engine idling rough.

airdrie check engine light


We connected a scan tool and retrieved the stored trouble codes from the engine computer, or ECM. As we often see, the stored codes were of no help, as the engine had set misfire codes for all four cylinders. We already knew the engine was misfiring, and the trouble codes don’t tell us why the misfire is happening.

airdrie car scan


Even though this vehicle’s rather simplistic engine computer is flagging misfires on all four cylinders, the issue really felt more like a consistent misfire from a single cylinder. Removing and shorting out the spark plugs wires one by one, we determined that the engine was misfiring on cylinder #4.

airdrie spark plugs


OK, now what? We’ve got lots of possibilities here: the issue could be a bad spark plug or plug wire; a problem with the distributor (yes, this car still has one); a faulty fuel injector; or about a dozen other things. Removing and inspecting the cylinder #4 spark plug seemed like a good place to start. As it turns out, the spark plug and wire were both in good condition.

airdrie mechanic


We noticed, however, that the spark plug was a bit wet with fuel. Having already ensured we had a strong spark supply to the plug from the distributor and coil, this could only mean one thing: The spark plug was firing; the fuel injector was firing; but the combustion event was not taking place inside the cylinder. The next logical step seemed like performing a compression test. We installed our compression tester in the #4 spark plug tube; disabled the ignition system; and cranked the engine over. As it turned out, cylinder #4 was only making about 40PSI of compression! (A good cylinder on this engine measured around 160 PSI.)

airdrie compression test

The low compression was definitely the cause of the misfire. Every engine needs at least 100 PSI per cylinder to “get the fire going”, so to speak. Now it was time to determine why cylinder #4 had low compression. Like before, there are lots of possibilities: it could be a burnt/bent valve; worn out piston rings; or a handful of other things. How do we determine where all that lost compression is going? We install a cylinder leakdown tester. Out came the compression tester, and in went this next tool.

airdrie car repair


We rotated the engine until cylinder #4 was on its compression stroke, with all the valves closed. Using the leakdown tester, we filled the cylinder with compressed air. As you can see, this cylinder has about 85% leakdown. (20% is the most we’d ever like to see on a good engine.)

We can also use the leakdown tester to determine where the leaking compression is going, by listening for air leakage at different points on the engine. Air coming out of the intake manifold or throttle body indicates a leaking intake valve on this cylinder. Air hissing from the tailpipe indicates a leaking exhaust valve, and air leaking from the oil cap points towards a leak into the crankcase via worn out cylinders and/or piston rings. This vehicle had none of these leaks. The compressed air was actually leaking from the cylinder #3 spark plug hole, indicating there is a blown head gasket or other combustion leak between these two adjacent cylinders.

The next step in diagnosis will be to remove the cylinder head for inspection, and likely replace the leaking head gasket.


Almost every warning light diagnosis works this way. The trouble codes (sometimes) provide a starting point, and then there are usually many other tests that must be performed – using even more specialized equipment – to “zero in” on the route cause of the issue. With some issues, there are no codes stored at all, and the technician must let the symptoms and their experience lead them in the right testing direction.

Every good diagnosis goes like the one on our Honda this week: A well-trained technician knows exactly what test to perform next based on the symptoms at hand, and lets the results of that test tell them what test should be performed afterwards. There is no wasted time troubleshooting parts that don’t need to be checked – and more importantly, no money wasted replacing parts that won’t fix the problem.

This is the value of a good diagnosis by a qualified professional, and it’s what we work to bring you every day.

Getting the most out of your air conditioning system

July 7th, 2017

July has barely begun, but we’ve already been inundated with some very hot weeks in Alberta! Naturally, we’re doing lots of air conditioning repairs these days. But what if your air conditioning system works, but it doesn’t cool as well as you’d like? Here are some tips to maximize its effectiveness.


Change your cabin air filter.

Cabin what? We still run into a lot of people who won’t know their car has a cabin air filter! Your cabin air filter is the “furnace filter of your car”, filtering the air travelling through your heater vents. The effect a restricted filter can have on air conditioning cooling is dramatic! A plugged filter not only drastically reduces the force with which the air blows from the vents, but it also reduces cooling. Check out this vent temperature comparison we did on a vehicle with a very dirty cabin air filter:

air conditioning repair

We don’t charge any labour to replace cabin air filters on most vehicles, and we sell most vehicles’ filters for between $20 and $30!


Replace your climate-controlled seat filter.

Does your vehicle have air conditioned or cooled seats? Most of these have filters that require regular replacement as well. Check your owner’s manual on how often you should tend to them on your vehicle.


Turn your fan speed down.

As tempting as it may be to really get that cold air blasting, you’ll usually achieve a colder vent temperature at settings around three quarters of the way up your blower motor’s fan speed range. For example, this may be speed #4 of 5 settings. The faster the incoming air is moving, the less time it spends inside your vehicle’s evaporator core to be cooled, and too much air can overload the system on hot days.


Use your “recirculate” or “max A/C” setting.

car ac not cold

In one pass through the system, your air conditioning system can only cool the incoming air by so many degrees. By switching to your “recirculate” setting, you direct the system to pull air from inside the vehicle (which has already been cooled once) instead of outside. This dramatically reduces vent temperature on most vehicles. Just be careful on longer drives, because the air conditioning system also dries the air that passes through it. You’ll want to switch off the recirculation mode from time to time in order to avoid dry mouth or headaches.


Check your radiator for restrictions.

radiator replacement

For your A/C system to cool properly, it must be able to draw large amounts of air through the condenser mounted behind your vehicle’s front grille. Dirt and mud build-up on the front of the radiator and between your vehicle’s various coolers – very common on trucks – can really reduce this airflow. We’ve even seen where a customer forgot their “Saskatchewan thermostat” (piece of cardboard) behind the radiator after the winter ended! While we’re taking shots at our neighbors to the east, radiators plugged with bugs and grasshoppers are a real cooling issue in the prairies as well! Most of this debris can be washed out with a garden hose from the rear of the radiator. Be careful using a pressure washer; you’ll want to keep the angle of your spray perpendicular to the radiator or else you’ll bend the fins.


Have your air conditioning system recharged.

While a perfectly sealed air conditioning system should never get low on refrigerant – or “freon”, as we used to call it – the reality is that over the years, the refrigerant level may drop. Removing, measuring and topping up (or “recharging”) the refrigerant level can get your vehicle cooling like new again. This is something that should be left to a professional; see our post here on why you should not use store-bought “canned” refrigerant products. If your air conditioning system becomes low on charge after just one year or two, then it likely has a leak that should be repaired.

We charge between $140 and $180 for this service, on most vehicles.


Have any air conditioning system problems or concerns? Email us or give us a call!

The “extra warranty” you didn’t know your vehicle had!

June 24th, 2017

airdrie exhaust catalytic converter

By Chris Dekker


This month, we had a 2011 Buick in the shop for a check engine light diagnosis. We determined that the car had a failed catalytic converter; not a cheap repair. We called the customer and informed them that while we’d love to replace their catalytic converter, we couldn’t charge them for something they could receive for free under warranty. “Warranty?” they said, “That thing has been off warranty for almost two years!”

While the customer was right – the powertrain warranty had long since expired – the catalytic converter was covered under a special, federally mandated emissions system warranty. American and Canadian laws state that car manufacturers must cover certain emissions system-related parts for 8 years, or 130,000 km. This list of parts includes:

  • The catalytic converter and any related shielding/protection.
  • The under-dash data link connector that is used with scan tools.
  • The “check engine” light bulb and related wiring.
  • The engine control module or computer (ECM, PCM, etc).
  • In addition to these parts, any other on-board computer that performs diagnostic functions related to the emission system must be covered. On some vehicles, this includes the Transmission Control Module, Fuel Pump Driver Module, and more.

While this is a fairly short list of parts, some of these items are very expensive components to replace, so it’s worth knowing about!

airdrie ecm pcm repair


Who can perform these warranty repairs?

Only a repair facility authorized by the vehicle manufacturer themselves can perform a no-charge repair under your emissions warranty. In most cases, this will only be the servicing dealership for that brand.

Can I be charged for any part of an emissions warranty repair?

No; it’s forbidden by law. While many dealerships will ask you to commit to a diagnostic charge up front, in case your problem isn’t actually being caused by one of the warrantable parts, they cannot charge you for this diagnosis once it is determined that a warrantable part has failed. You are not to be charged for the diagnosis, or any additional parts and/or supplies that are required to complete the repair. For example, if a catalyst replacement requires installation of new exhaust gaskets, pipes or clamps, you should not be charged for these items either.

Is there any way a dealership can deny an emissions warranty claim?

Yes – but only if they can prove that you have misused your vehicle or not maintained it correctly, and it is this abuse that caused the failure of the warrantable part. Some examples of these abuses include:

  • Vehicle abuse such as off-road driving or overloading.
  • Tampering with emissions system components, including removal; intentional damage; or disabling of any emissions parts. (This would include installation of many aftermarket performance parts; “chips”; or “programmers”.)
  • Improper maintenance, such as not following the manufacturer’s service schedules, or not using replacement parts that are equivalent to factory parts. For example, let’s pretend your owner’s manual states to replace your spark plugs at 100,000 km. If you bring your vehicle in with a failed catalytic converter at 120,000 km, and the original spark plugs still installed, it could be argued (and fairly so) that the worn-out spark plugs caused an engine running condition that damaged the catalytic converter.

What should you do if your claim is denied, and you’re sure it shouldn’t have been?

  1. Ask for a detailed explanation, in writing as to why emissions warranty coverage was denied; and
  2. Ask for the name(s) of the person(s) involved in the decision to deny coverage, including anyone from the manufacturer’s regional or zone office; and
  3. Ask for the name(s) of the person(s) with the manufacturer you should contact to appeal the denial of coverage under the emissions warranty.
  4. Contact the person mentioned above requesting coverage and giving the basis for your request. Repeat and continue the appeal process until you are satisfied or have exhausted all means of appeal. In Alberta, motorists can also reach out to the Alberta Motor Vehicle Industry Council (AMVIC) for help with any auto purchasing or service issues.

We hope this information is helpful, and we’d be happy to answer any questions you may have about new vehicle warranties – or anything else car-related! Please call or email us anytime.

Labour Rate Increase

April 21st, 2017

From Tim and Chris:

After more than three years at our current shop labour rate, we are are finally making an increase. Prices in the area have increased to the point where we are now charging $15-$25/hour less than most other independent repair shops in Airdrie, and $35/hour less than local dealerships. When you consider that these other businesses are also billing another $10-$15/hour in “shop supplies” charges on top of their labour rate – and we don’t – the price disparity is actually between $25 and $55/hour.

In many cases, we are charging a lot less for a shop that is better equipped; technicians who are better trained; and a better quality repair (with a much better warranty) than these competitors.

Obviously that’s not right. But this isn’t the only reason for the rate increase. We (the owners) won’t see a pay increase a result of the higher labour rate. The higher labour rate is necessary to keep up with increasing costs, which have actually risen a lot in the last couple years despite the bad economy. For these reasons, our general labour rate will be increasing by $15 to $125 per hour this month.

So what is not changing? Our overall value offered will still be exceptional, because:

  • Our diagnostics & programming rate will remain at $150/hour, where it was before.
  • Our diagnostics are still guaranteed. If we tell you that you need something, and it doesn’t fix the problem, you don’t pay. Ever.
  • Our general labour rate is still pretty darn competitive, since our effective labour rate (including fees) will still be $10-$30 lower than most competitors.
  • Our honesty – arguably the largest factor when it comes to determining value – isn’t going anywhere. Our customers never pay for repairs they don’t need, or unnecessary labour overlap between related repairs.
  • Our parts pricing will not change.
  • Our service after the sale isn’t changing. If you ever have a problem, we want to hear about it! And you might be impressed by how concerned we are with taking care of you.
  • Our industry-leading 3 year/60,000 km parts & labour warranty on all repairs, with 2 years of North America-wide coverage and roadside assistance, remains in effect. This is significant. As an example, let’s say a friend of yours has a water pump replaced at another business, and it starts leaking 13 months later. They’re likely out of warranty, and out of luck. This is a bad situation, and it happens! If we’d installed that pump, your friend would have been taken care of, and would have another two years of warranty coverage left.

Any questions or concerns? Please email us at :)

Why we will not longer be servicing BMW vehicles.

March 31st, 2017


You’ve heard it before: BMW drivers are assholes. While we take a lot of pride in our business’ positive image, and we certainly do not condone this kind of language, for a while we’ve had a sneaking suspicion that there might be some truth to this popular phrase.

At first, we thought it was all in our heads. But sitting down this week and reviewing over a month of dashcam footage from our service truck, we discovered that our suspicions were correct. The bad parking jobs; failure to use turn signals; changing lanes at the last second – BMW drivers are committing a disproportionately high amount of these motoring no-nos. It’s just not our experience, either. Recently, study after scientific study seem to confirm that there is truly a link between driving a BMW and exhibiting this behaviour.

Even our customers have noticed there’s something going on. We have had far too many complaints about BMW vehicles double-parking in our already limited amount of parking space.

In light of everything mentioned above, Tools in Motion has made the decision to stop servicing BMW vehicles. This wasn’t easy, because we recognize that these really are fantastic cars, and not all BMW drivers are to blame. This is certainly a case of a few bad apples ruining things for the whole group. Trust us that this was a very difficult decision, and we sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.

(Happy April Fool’s Day from Tools in Motion!)